Nitish Kumar’s dilemma
If he sacks Tejashwi, grand coalition is in trouble; if he doesn’t, his image suffers
With every passing day, the future of the grand alliance in Bihar is coming under increasing strain. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's personal credibility and image of a clean leader is being tested in the wake of cases filed against his alliance partner Lalu Prasad and family. What is especially disconcerting for the Chief Minister is that his Cabinet Minister and Lalu Prasad's son Tejashwi Yadav is among the suspects being probed by various Central agencies in connection with financial irregularities, including money laundering and amassment of wealth beyond known sources of income. Given Nitish Kumar's reputation for upholding public morality high even in the face of minor accusations that his people have faced — he once sacked Jitan Ram Manjhi from his ministry when the latter faced unsubstantiated charges — it will be difficult for him to look the other way in the face of the present crisis. Indeed, his party, the Janata Dal (United), appears set to get clear answers from the Lalu family, especially Tejashwai Yadav, who is also the Deputy Chief Minister. The general sense in a meeting which the Chief Minister had conveyed a few days ago on the issue was that Lalu Prasad's son must explain satisfactorily the charges he faces, and that if fails to do so in the coming next days, the Chief Minister would be left with no option than to act against him — in other words, seek Tejashwai's resignation. In his characteristic style, Lalu Prasad has sought to turn the tables on the Union Government by saying that the Bharatiya Janata Party was using the Central probe agencies to hound his family and create fissures in the grand alliance which rules Bihar, and was failing to act against those such as Union Minister Uma Bharti, who is accused in a case relating to the demolition of the Ayodhya mosque. But this tactic is not working as Nitish Kumar is far from impressed. He understands well that rhetoric has a place and time — and this is neither, to defend the indefensible.
Besides, it's not just one case that the Lalu Prasad family is faced with; there are many others, and, if Nitish Kumar does decide to make peace by ignoring one, he cannot keep doing so over and over again with the others. Lalu Prasad's chief defence is that mere complaints registered by the authorities cannot be the basis to demand resignations of Ministers. It is difficult to believe that Nitish Kumar will wait until a chargesheet is filed and charges are framed in a court of law against the accused — let alone for a verdict to be delivered. Because, if he does decide to wait it out, he will do so at the cost of his political credibility. Much as he is concerned about the fate of the grand alliance, he is equally worried over the more immediate — from his viewpoint — impact on his image. Meanwhile, his Government can successfully handle any break-up with Lalu Prasad in case the BJP steps in with support.
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